On Monday, Richmond City Council unanimously approved final amendments to the downtown master plan, with language that works against the developers of a $160 million proposed mixed-use project on the riverfront.
The final plan designates the site of the proposed Echo Harbour as an “Urban Center Area,” which calls for building heights of four to six stories.
That doesn’t jibe with the 10 to 12 stories that USP Rocketts LLC (not related to Rocketts Landing, which is just down river) wants to build on the site. Their proposal has drawn opposition from community groups who say their plan will obstruct the view from Church Hill. The view is what gave Richmond its name because of its similarity to the view from Richmond-upon-Thames in England.
In April, a revised version of their plan was submitted to the city that lowers a portion of the development to six stories to preserve part of the view.
An amendment approved Monday calls for the city to measure building heights from the top of the flood plain, which is about 15 feet higher than ground level.
That gives the developers a little bit of leeway, but they are still about two stories over the recommendations in the downtown plan.
But that isn’t stopping Echo Harbour developers from pushing forward, according to the attorney for the developers, Jim Theobald of Hirschler Fleischer.
“I think some of the residents who are opposed to this case, some of them believe this is more than a guideline, but it’s not,” said Theobald.
“It is not binding, it is essentially there as a planning tool. The city has the right to consider anything they want.”
The developers have been waiting for approval of a special use permit to allow residential uses on the property. The permit application was submitted in August 2006.
Theobald said he expects the proposal to go before council in the fall.
He said the development would generate $3 million in annual tax revenue and create 500 full-time equivalent jobs. He also said they have committed to dedicate and construct a portion of the Virginia Capital Trail along the entire length of the property at no cost to the city.
“That represents the merits that the council will ultimately need to consider,” Theobald said.
For those opposed to the development, the approved downtown plan is another arrow in their quiver.
Rick Tatnall, founder of the community group Together We Stand, opposes the Echo Harbour project and said the passage of the plan supports their position.
“[The plan] is definitely outside of what their goals were from a height standpoint, and it puts it into formal and approved writing,” Tatnall said.
A petition has been established on Tatnall’s website urging the city to achieve “full ownership and control” of the site for the purpose of creating a public park and preserving the view.
“There is more and more pressure on what the city is trying to do,” said Tatnall. “It’s all starting to come to a head.”
Al Harris covers commercial real estate for BizSense. Please send news tips to [email protected].